Al jar, thumma ddar. “Choose the neighbor, then the house,” the proverb goes. Wise advice in a country where community is built around food and cooking.
Lets start with the basics: Bread. Known as khobz, the typical bread of Morocco, is a round, flat crusty loaf made with semolina, wheat, white, rye or barley flour. Bakers like Abdullah run neighborhood ovens, or ferranes, and baking in Marrakech is a communal affair. Abdullah himself has been baking the bread of forty families, for over forty years.
More than just a staple food, bread is sacred in Morocco. Dough is made every morning in the home, and then carried from the house, through the winding city streets, to the ferrane to be baked. If a piece of bread is accidently dropped on the ground, it must be picked up, kissed, and placed in a safe and clean place.
The ferrane is not the only public place where food is cooked. The local Hammam, or bathhouse, may seem like a strange place to set-up kitchen, but the well-tended fire used to heat the water is a perfect spot to simmer a delicious, slow-cooked Tangia. Special to Marrakech, Tangia Marrakshia—not to be confused with tagine—is cooked in a deep, long-necked pot, covered with paper and tied tightly with a string. This special dish is made with lamb, garlic, preserved lemons, saffron, glugs of olive oil and a mixture of a dozen spices appropriately named Ras al Hanout—Head of Shop.
The sense of community is especially evident on holidays, such as Eid al-Adha, when the eldest male in the household slaughters a sheep and divides the meat into three ways—setting aside one piece for the poor, one for guests, and the other for the family.
The people of Marrakech will probably tell you that the best food in the city is found in their home. That being said, at about 4 o'clock in the afternoon the food stalls start setting up in the main square, Djama el Fnna, and locals and tourists alike show up to watch street performances, listen to live music, and eat everything from lamb merguez sausages to snails in a salty brine.
Ground lamb or beef, parsley, paprika, onion and cumin are the essential ingredients to any good lamb brochette, or kefta kebab.
Believed to be healing for the digestive system, Moroccan snails are cooked in boiling water with several different spices, until the perfect balance is achieved. With everything from licorice root to caraway seed, a bowl of this street-stall delicacy is called Babouche, which means "slipper" in French and Arabic.
As the last bites of a meal in Marrakech are eaten, the tea pot is brought to the table. Carefully the host begins preparing and pouring the sweet Maghrebi mint tea. In a culture that prides itself on hospitality, tea signals the start of a relationship and a mark of friendship. As the poet Abdallah Zrika so eloquently puts it, in Morocco "the whole universe is found in a teapot."
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